Company: U P Video (Unique Publications)
Tape Name: Chen Style Tai Chi 1
Tape Cost: $ 39.95 plus $ 5 postage
Length of Tape/Time: 44 minutes
Number of Moves/Techniques: First 22 movements of a 64 movement form
Return Policy: Defective tapes exchanged within 30 days from date of purchase
Experiences in dealing with this company: Unknown
The Instructor: Jim McNeil
Company's Address: 4201 Vanowen Place , Burbank , CA 91505
Company's Phone Number: (800) 332-3330
Web Page: or
E-Mail: ?

Primary Grading Criteria:

1. Production/Tape Quality: 9
2. Instructors demonstrated skill level: 9
3. Comprehension Score/Immediate Understanding: 9
4. Degree to which this will make someone a better Martial Artist: 8
5. Score on delivery vs. hype: 9
6. Degree to which we'd recommend this product: 9
7. Wasted Time (The higher the number, the less "fluff"/repetition): 9
8. Playback Score/Watching it over-and-over again: 8
9. Would I purchase more of this company's products: 9
10. Overall grade based on cost vs. value: 9

Grand Total: 88%

1. 80%-100% = 88 %
2. Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent = Fair
3. 0-5 stars = 2 stars

Secondary Grading Criteria:

1. Beginners benefit: Fair
2. Intermediate benefit: Fair
3. Advanced benefit: Poor
4. Time to benefit: Learning a complex internal arts form from a video is not an easy matter, not impossible though, depending also on the viewer's background
5. The need to buy additional tapes to understand this one: None

Written Summary:

This video attempts to teach the viewer the first form of Chen style Tai Chi Chuan. The instructor featured is the fairly well known and prolific Jim Mc Neil, who also has a book and some videos out on Hsing I and other Chinese martial arts. He even has a video out entitled "Secrets of Chinese Lovemaking" or words to that effect, but although the reviewer has bought a copy, it will obviously not be reviewed, since it addresses marital arts rather than martial arts.

Firstly, a problem with reviewing internal arts videos : Internal arts are, as the name suggests, internal, i.e. there are often a lot of things happening which may or may not be apparent to the viewer. In judging someone's ability to execute a powerful Muay Thai kick for instance, it is not that difficult to come to some sort of agreement. Does the kicker rotate properly on the ball of the foot ? Are the arms used correctly to enhance power production , without leaving any holes in the defence. Is the body positioned properly and what does the impact look and sound like ? To give an example in the internal arts, both of the reviewer's teachers could produce a powerful blow. Both had seen the other do their art and were not overly impressed by each other's ability. The reason being that my first teacher taught Lo Ho Pa Fa and Tai Chi using a very strong "spinal wave dynamic",very similar to Chen style Tai Chi or to Park Bok Nam's Pa Kua. My second teacher did not teach any spinal dynamic in his Pa Kua or Hsing I, everything revolved around moving from the bubbling well point in the foot and keeping centered in the dan tien .My first teacher thought the second one too weak and he in turn considered my first teacher's method "too external". Those who are in the internal arts will know that this is not just nit - picking , this is standard operating procedure in these arts. Since there is hardly ever any pressure testing or reality checking in these arts, it is at times not so easy to come to some kind of definitive judgement, yet this is what must be attempted, since that's what a video review is all about.

Most or possibly all modern Tai Chi styles trace their lineage back to the Chen style. Yang Lu Chan, founder of the Yang style, learnt from the Chen family.Wu style branched off from Yang style. Hao and Sun style trace their roots back to the Chen style. So yes , Mr. Mc Neil is correct in saying this. A lot of the other claims he makes are however only his opinion and not necessarily fact. He states , for instance, that "many of Chen Fa Ke's students have altered the form, ONLY Pan Wing Chow (his teacher) still teaches the original form". How does he know, has he met the head of every branch of the family tree descended from Chen Fa Ke? That would be quite an undertaking, involving lengthy research in Mainland China. This, and a few other things seem to be meant to imply that this is the only lineage, the original style , the old style, etc., etc.. Whenever someone claims to be the only one to have "the secret teachings" or " the hidden techniques" or whatever, it is always advisable to take such claims with more than the proverbial pinch of salt. Clear translation : " I'm the only one who really knows, so spend all your money on my products rather than on those of the opposition"!

The video starts off with a demonstration of the whole form ,done by Mr. Mc Neil. Having seen maybe a hundred or more performances of the first form of the Chen style, either live or on video, I found Mr. Mc Neil's form to be precise and competent, as far as the external movement was concerned, but not very impressive in terms of what I would consider as internal abilities. As stated above, all of this is open to interpretation, but I found his movements to be somewhat stiff, with excessive tension, especially in the shoulders,at times the movement of the arms was not connected to the rest of the body and he was not very rooted. My opinion only. In other words, maybe not so bad for American standards, but in Chenjiagou village ( home of the Chen family ) I feel he would be considered an intermediate student and asked to assist with teaching the beginners in the children's class, at best.

The form is then broken down into sections, two or three movements being taught at a time. The movements are repeated several times, not often enough to appear as if the producers were trying to pad the video, but often enough that one could get the gist of the movement. No attempt is made to teach the intricate spiralling-energy movement that characterises Chen style. I feel that someone with experience in learning forms could definetly learn these external movements from this video. What he would have learnt would be a martial dance, though, without Chen style power production , what would be the point? At the end of every section, Mr. Mc Neil shows a couple of applications of the movements just taught. Although the reviewer has seen far worse, again I have quite a few problems with this. It often seems that the attacks are specially made up to fit the form movements. On one occasion for instance, Mr. Mc Neil's student attacks with an uppercut- like punch to the abdomen at a range more suited to a cross or a reverse punch. No one attacks with such a punch at this range, since there is no power in such a punch( and no, it was not a Hsing I tsuan chuan punch)done with such extension. On another occasion, we are shown a defence against a wrist grab.

Firstly, in the many streetfights I have seen, I have never seen one starting with a wrist grab.Wrist grabs made sense in feudal Japan, so as to stop an opponent from drawing his sword, but today I do not believe they really feature, except possibly in women's self defence( and then there are more efficient responses). Also, in demonstrating, Mr. Mc Neil reaches out with his forearm, so as to make it easier for his student to grab him. Not very realistic at all.

That's the bottom line. Yes, if memory serves me correctly, Igor Vovchanchin used a straight knee to KO Nick Nutter in a NHB match, but this does not mean that a similar looking technique shown here would be programable in the way in which it is taught here. If anyone believes that doing a nice little form plus occasionally practising a few selected and isolated applications in a repetitive ,"dead" fashion can produce real combative ability, I have a nice little parcel of Kalahari desert property I would like to sell them. I am not trying to imply that a Chen stylist can't fight or even that American Chen stylists are low caliber, I would for instance not under any circumstances want to mess with Chen stylist Mike Sigman , then again his training and teaching methodology differs completely from Mr. Mc Neil's. He starts off with how to produce power, even has built training devices to increase his power. Mr. Sigman's three videos are essential viewing for any aspiring Chen stylist. Back to this video though.

It may not be as bad as I have just made it sound. Yes, you may be able to learn the form from it, and whilst I would advise against showing off this new found knowledge in the parks of Shanghai or Beijing, it might even win you a nice trophy at the local tournament and surely this is not such a bad thing?!


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